The following happened while I was employed as a quality control inspector at a steel coating plant outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
It was about 6:15 AM as I crossed the plant floor toward the offices. The lights weren’t turned on yet, and though the sun was rising outside, the interior of the building was still a dark tangle of shadows.
In the distance I could see a short stumpy figure climbing the ladder to where the cranes and catwalks are.
I wondered why Jim, the crane operator, would be climbing into the crane so early, and thought it peculiar that he was doing it in the dark. As I looked more closely, I realized that it wasn’t Jerry at all; it was the biggest raccoon I had ever seen. (Yes, I mistook a huge raccoon for Jerry, if you had ever met Jerry, you would understand.) The raccoon then disappeared into the darkness of the rafters and catwalks.
“I’ve seen that raccoon,” Ken, one of the private inspectors, told me, “it comes up from the Ohio River at daybreak and just disappears into the building somewhere.”
Suddenly Rick the foreman, who was sitting at his desk, jumped up and yelled at us, “they ain’t clean.”
“What?” Ken said, slightly startled.
“People think that raccoons are clean, but they ain’t clean. People think that raccoons are clean because they wash their food. They wash their food because they ain’t got no saliva; they don’t wash their food because they’re clean. They ain’t clean.” He stood glaring at us as we took in his tirade.
“Well..” was all that Ken got out.
“And they ain’t smart. People think they’re smart because they’ve got little people hands, but they ain’t smart. They ain’t clean and they ain’t smart.” He them stormed from the office as if he had been horribly offended.
Ken and I stood there and gaped at each other in stunned silence. Although neither of us said anything, we knew what other was thinking: what the hell?
After a few moments, Ken broke the silence,”Wow, Rick really !#@$%# hates raccoons.”
We speculated about what frightful trauma must have occurred to instill such a level of hatred for a furry animal. Maybe as a small child he was attacked by a racoon. Maybe as young teen a pack of racoon bullies taunted him and knocked the books out of his hands as he walked down the school hallway. (Rick had the physical presence of Ichabod Crane, without the grace.)
This is what I think happened: it was prom night, the night Rick had dreamed of since he was a little boy. He had his tuxedo. He had the corsage that he would tenderly pin to her gown. It was his night to shine.
She was a little late, but that’s fashionable right? He paced impatiently as the minutes stretched into hours. Periodically he’d stop to check his watch as he would mumble under his breath, “she’ll be here any minute now.”
She never showed up that night. Rick’s never gotten past the devastation that being stood up caused. Now he has an irrational hatred of all raccoons.